DALLAS — An emotional George W. Bush dedicated his presidential library and museum Thursday, calling it a tribute to his pursuit of freedom and to America’s bright future.
“Leaders are defined by the convictions they hold,” the former president said. “And my deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom.”
With President Obama and three former presidents at his side, Mr. Bush said the $250 million center at Southern Methodist University will show future generations that he stayed true to his convictions.
“I believe that freedom is a gift from God,” he said. “We expanded freedom at home by raising standards in our schools and lowering taxes for everybody. We liberated a nation from a dictatorship and freed people from AIDS. And when freedom came under attack, we made the tough decisions required to keep the American people safe.”
The museum chronicles the Republican president’s tumultuous two terms in office, from his disputed election in 2000 over Vice President Al Gore through the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crisis at the end of his administration. As he concluded his remarks, Mr. Bush choked with emotion and tears filled his eyes.
“I will always believe our nation’s best days lie ahead,” he said to the thousands of well-wishers gathered on a bright, sunny day. “God bless.”
Tributes and politics
Mr. Obama used the occasion to advocate for immigration reform, saying Mr. Bush “restarted an important conversation” seven years ago when he pushed unsuccessfully for such legislation. He said he is hopeful that Congress this year will pass the legislation, which would include a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.
The president, who missed few opportunities during his political campaigns to criticize Mr. Bush’s policies, downplayed their differences on the joyful day. He called Mr. Bush “a good man,” one of the highest compliments that Mr. Bush pays friends.
“To know the man is to like the man, because he’s comfortable in his own skin,” Mr. Obama said. “He takes the job seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously.”
The event showcased a rare gathering of five presidents — Mr. Bush, his father, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Mr. Obama. Both the elder Mr. Bush, who used a wheelchair, and Mr. Carter are 88 years old.
Five first ladies also were on hand — Michelle Obama, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rosalynn Carter.
The elder Mr. Bush, looking somewhat frail after recent hospitalizations, said it was a “great pleasure to be here to honor our oldest son.”